Dain Yoon’s Mesmerizing Makeup Process


All images courtesy of Dain Yoon

It might be hard to decipher its painterly puzzles, but upon further glance of the trippy @DesignDain account shows trompe l’oeil creations that are as delightful as they are hypnotic. Artist Dain Yoon constructs her work beyond flat, two-dimensional surfaces, painting vividly detailed optical illusions on her face and body. With uncanny detail and repetition, Yoon painstakingly is able to execute her dream-like designs on herself, which can sometimes take a full day to complete. Models.com spoke with the artist about her ability to enthrall the digital masses, having a sense of humor in her work, and the next, big canvas she wants to conquer.

When did you first discover your gift in art and when did you first transition into using yourself as a canvas?
I have always enjoyed painting since I was very young, and, frankly speaking, it was what I was best at. I attended Yewon Arts secondary and Seoul Arts high school, graduating at the top of my class. These art schools are the most prestigious in Korea. After I got into art college, I studied scenography. I had a chance to design theatrical makeup and to draw on the body of actors of plays. However, after participating in theatrical makeup I felt a strong need to do my own creative work, and not be part of the theatre. At first, for my personal artworks, I painted on the bodies of models. A little later, about 6-7 years ago, I decided to draw on my own face because the face is the strongest, most sensitive part of the body where I can deliver the most delicate emotions I seek to convey.

When I am creating my ‘look,’ I always try to capture everything inside the frame, not just the painting. I try to curate everything, not only the body parts being painted but also the background, the atmosphere, the movement of body, objects, lighting, every single detail. I think it comes from my experience with scenography. It made me look at the bigger picture, the whole scene. It helped me move my focus from the subject to the bigger picture. It’s also important to note that my artistic family has been a very important part of my life. My mom is an artist and my dad a professor of architecture. Since I was young, my mom always emphasized that a sense of humor is very important for artworks. My parent’s philosophy has always supported and influenced me and my artistic development a lot.

How do you first plan out your transformations or is it a more organic process and incorporating it into your creations?
The first step is conceptualizing ideas which takes the longest. The last step always depends. If I do body painting and want to record this as a digital photo work, [shooting it] would be the last step. If it’s a live performance, performing would be the last step in the creation of the work. That said, I feel that the presentation of the work is as important as the making of it. So whether it’s finding the right frame or subject line for Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, this all is part of creating the experience or emotion I seek to communicate to my audience.

Where do you normally draw inspiration from?
I think the reason my work sparks the reactions it does is because I make sure it’s inspired by true feelings, and I’m happy that people are there to receive and be affected by them. I am a very sensitive person and my emotions have always been the source of my inspiration. And painting is the language I express myself in, in the same way as a musician uses music to communicate their emotions.

I get inspiration from my feelings, both emotional and physical. Since both of my parents worked day jobs, I had a lot of time to think on my own when I was young. Although everyone feels emotions, I was overly sensitive to my emotions, to an abnormal extent. So when I started painting from a young age, back when I used to paint on canvasses and papers, the subject matter of my work was almost always about people and emotions.

On average, how long can a look take for you to create and what kind of medium do you use?
Finishing a piece can vary in time from 3 hours up to 12 hours. I use many materials such as body paints, makeup, and paper, etc. I use makeup as a tool and use my body as a canvas. These are my medium to express. And since I only have one face, it means that I only have one canvas to best express my individuality and emotions.

You’ve collaborated on projects this year with everyone from Will Smith to Halsey to the duo behind Toiletpaper, who’s a dream collaboration for you?
All of my collaborations have been very meaningful to me. As I spent a lot of time in art school, Maurizio Cattelan has been a great honor for me to work with on Toiletpaper magazine. For the future, there are so many people, brands and events I’d love to work with. That said, I don’t have a “dream” collaboration, per se. A great result is what makes any collaboration a dream collaboration. Making a wildly unique appearance at the Met Gala sounds like something fun to do though, for example.

Do you have any plans for displaying your work in a show in 2020?
Yes, 2020 will be an exciting year! I will be spending more time in America. There, everything is bigger but even though I will explore new, larger-scale opportunities in the USA, culturally, my Korean background will always be at the core of my inspiration. Ever since I was very young, I had a great interest in “Land Art.” Projects like the “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson, or the current “Roden Crater” by James Turrell. The enormity of their scale is something I find appealing so when I said that I will explore larger-scale opportunities in the USA I don’t just mean larger commercial opportunities but also venturing into different mediums like Land Art. I recently started working on a 2.5-acre land art project in the hills in Malibu, California – which will be very utopian, as well as a large-scale mural project in downtown Los Angeles.

Additionally, I’m planning an intimate art show in a very unique location, a few months from now. Still all very hush-hush, but it will be something very unusual and inspiring. I’d say my main focus for 2020 is to find a balance between art that’s more permanent and art that represents a brief moment in time and is then washed away – which in itself is a very beautiful and emotional experience. A lot of change is coming and I look forward to it!

What’s next? Is there anything you haven’t done that you would love to do?
I always explore new mediums. Always have a strong interest in performance art as well, using my body as a medium or method of communication. Per my previous note, I’m very interested in making a large-scale permanent land art pieces as well…too many ideas, too little time!

As time passes and the more work I do, the higher and higher my expectations for my work become. This makes it difficult for me to create sometimes. But I always keep thinking and try to observe the world with a fresh mindset. As time passes, my goals for my work are becoming infinite. I really appreciate the state of mind I’m in right now!